Spring is a common time of the year to be hiring new operations team staff members, from housekeepers to inspectors and maintenance techs. Widespread labor shortages over the last couple of years, however, has translated into ongoing challenges for many property managers in maintaining needed staff levels.
The pandemic years greatly impacted hospitality employers’ ability to hire and retain workers, and those employment trends have continued. Compared to other types of work, lower-paying jobs that require an in-person presence have seen the most levels of turnover since 2020. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the Accommodation and Food Services industry’s hiring rate has fluctuated between 6.8-9 percent since late 2020, but has also seen the highest national quit rates, which at 5 percent are double the falling national average of 2.5 percent for January 2023.
Steve Trover, CEO and founder of Better Talent, suggests that the remainder of 2023 “will be much the same as it has been for the last couple of years when it comes to front line roles.” Of the job market at a whole, he notes that, “We are still near record low unemployment despite being at a record for active workforce. The layoffs in the news are largely technical in nature and have had little to no impact on front-line hiring.”
Employee burnout and a lack of career growth are major contributing factors to the high turnover rates of front-line roles. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), low wages, a lack of health insurance, little time off, and a lack schedule flexibility can lead to burnout and other mental health issues. Research from Beekeeper, a front-line technology company, found that a lack of advancement is the No. 1 reason why front-line workers ghost employers and that two out of three workers have quit a job because they didn’t see a path ahead for them. These insights suggest that offering opportunities for professional development and training, in addition to competitive wages, benefits, and scheduling flexibility, are ways in which employers can seek to lower their turnover rates.
Making strategic hiring decisions from the beginning is another path toward front-line turnover reduction. When employers have a hard time finding staff, they may be desperate and tempted to hire anyone they can find, regardless of qualifications or fitness for the roles in question. Putting the wrong person in a job can be costly and lead to a bad experience for both worker and employer. But how can managers ensure that they are making hiring decisions that will ensure employee engagement and retention? To get the right team members in place, Better Talent’s Trover advises that “a strong employer brand, an employee referral program and aggressive marketing outreach are all necessary. A people plan that aligns with your business objectives is key.”
In addition, some employers are turning to behavioral assessment tools such as DISC® or the Predictive Index. Ashley Tusch, PHR, the director of human resources at Finger Lakes Premier Properties, says that the Predictive Index “has been critical for us placing the right people in the right seats. Trying to find the right candidate is no longer a guessing game or crossing our fingers and hoping for the best when we hire someone.” Understanding a potential hire’s behavioral drives and how they line up with the needs of an open position can be a powerful tool for managers. “We better understand what motivates candidates/employees, what their strengths are, and their areas that need improvement. We are able to match people to job profiles, which creates a cohesive team, reduces turnover, and helps us understand how we can grow them,” Tusch says.
Once staff members are hired and underway, keeping them engaged and motivated is critical to retention. Managers should seek to understand the day-to-day realities of the front-line team experience and ensure that their needs are understood and addressed. Opening lines of communication and inviting feedback is a start, but following up on said feedback and addressing issues or questions will help create trust and boost morale.
Michelle Williams, a VRMA director and chair of Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP), is general manager of Atlantic Vacation Homes in Gloucester, Massachusetts. VRHP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of back-of-the-house vacation rental professionals. For more information on becoming a VRHP member, visit vrhp.vrma.org.